Gay conversion therapy seems like a great idea. You pay someone to have your child tormented by uncertified religious zealots who attempt to convince them that they are awful human beings, that their “choice” is a sin that can be cured and absolved like alcoholism or veganism. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
Boy Erased features a solid performance by Lucas Hedges and offers a disturbing depiction of gay conversion therapy—treatment that has repeatedly been proven to be ineffective because, you know, gay people can’t stop being gay. And yet, somehow, there isn’t anything particularly remarkable about this drama.
The movie, and its lack of emotional depth, aligns well with other movies released in 2018 that fall in the Depressing White Male subgenre. Both Beautiful Boy and Ben is Back (which also starred Hedges) presented interesting stories about afflicted young white males, but neither elicited much of an emotional response. Boy Erased is no different.
Still, given the choice between this and The Miseducation of Cameron Post, another 2018 drama about gay conversion therapy, Boy Erased is the more compelling of the two. While Cameron Post focuses on and largely succeeds at exploring the impact of gay conversion therapy on its subjects, Boy Erased is driven by the therapy itself, an arguably more interesting exploration. Boy Erased depicts the horrible things that happen at these centers—the movie is based on a memoir—even if it struggles to elicit much in the way of an emotional response.
Hedges is really good, though compared to his previous roles doesn’t seem to find much challenging in the material. Nicole Kidman is also solid, though she is forced to make the most of her otherwise limiting “concerned mom” role. Russell Crowe is largely wasted, given minimal screen time and not much to do.
Boy Erased has a lot going for it, but for a movie that should make you feel rage and pity, it sadly doesn’t. It works best at an observational level, director Joel Edgerton serving up a satisfying look inside gay conversion therapy—while falling short on making us care for the people impacted.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.